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Monday, January 30, 2012

Clipper Customer Service Desk - Long Waits & Faster Alternate Methods Nearby

Clipper Customer Service Line

On Saturday, I burned some time in downtown and stopped at the Embarcadero station to hop on the California Cable car. When I got to the top of the escalator at the mezzanine level, I noticed a huge line at the Clipper customer service desk.

I had to scratch my head at the huge line and said to myself, "dang, that's the line?"

I also quietly laughed because I just handled a purchase to my Clipper card in just under a minute, and it's only a few feet away from the booth.

The Clipper Customer Service Desk
They are used for customers who wants to add value and passes to their card, apply for youth and senior cards, have questions about Clipper, replacing lost/stolen cards, and fix any problems with their account.

I did notice a few with paperwork in hand to apply for specialized youth & senior Clipper cards, but a handful looked like they were in line to purchase their monthly transit passes since the new month is just a few days away.

For those of you purchasing passes or needing to add Clipper e-cash value, there's an easy way to do it... go to the self-service automated machines within the Embarcadero station! There's even a banner over the Muni ticketing machines and the third party sales booth behind the line describing what Clipper services they can do (the third party booth was closed that day).

The automated machines can do...

Muni - Purchase e-transit passes and e-ridebooks for ALL participating agencies, and add e-cash (minimum of $5). Accepts cash, credit cards, debit cards, and commuter benefit cards.

BART - Add Clipper e-cash only (minimum of 5 cents). Accepts cash, credit cards, debit cards, and commuter benefit cards.

If you carry transit benefit checks (vouchers), you still have to claim it at the customer service desk, or you can go upstairs to the Walgreens.

So, don't suffer in line if you need to buy a pass or add e-cash! All Muni underground stations can get you what you need (if only e-cash, use ANY BART station).

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

How BART Rips-off Tourists When Leaving SFO

BART Train Map

BART's extension to SFO has been popular for travelers with decent prices that's less than a shuttle van and taxi, and gets passengers from the airport to downtown SF within 30 minutes. On the weekends, I notice the trains coming from SFO packed full of visitors and their luggage when I board the train at Daly City.

BART now offers visitors an option to pre-pay for their fare and pick-up their tickets at a counter nearby the main gates at SFO in terminal "G." The voucher page is a little hidden in the BART website, but once you find it, you click on the link and can buy the voucher online from a third-party official contracted vendor of BART.

You can purchase one of three options, a round-trip BART ticket from SFO to downtown SF stations, East Bay I (stations in East Bay, but closer to SFO), and East Bay II (stations furthest from SFO station).

Once you purchase the voucher, you print it and bring it to the nearby counter at the BART gates to claim it for BART tickets. The tickets will contain cash value similar to purchasing a ticket at a vending machine.

What's so bad about it?
It sounds simple, pre-pay and you get your tickets at a customer service counter.

Uh huh. How about the cost?

Here's a great example:
The printable voucher for a round-trip ride from SFO to a downtown SF station (Civic Center, Powell, Montgomery, and Embarcadero) costs $18. There's no service fees, print-at-home charges, etc. It's just $18.

But checking BART's fare table, a ride from SFO to a downtown station costs $8.10, so a round-trip ticket would cost $16.20.

This means, BART is ripping tourists and visitors off by taking an extra $1.20 in profit for the online voucher program.

Based on the website, there is no details if the $18 voucher purchased online will give the passenger a $18 BART ticket, or a ticket valued at $16.10, but either way, if a passenger is only riding BART to and from SFO, it's a definite rip-off to purchase the voucher.

Just remember visitors, BART ticketing machines accept credit cards too, so save that $1.80!

Transit Agencies in Napa & Solano Counties Next to Join Clipper

Muni Clipper Ticketing Machine - Civic Center Secondary Gates

Just a few days ago on Friday, January 13th, the Operations Committee of the MTC met to talk about their usual business, and specifically, spending money on Clipper.

Other than the agency spending money on preparing for VTA's full transition into Clipper, I'm going to stick to the big topic at hand, "Phase III" of Clipper.

As you may recall, Phase II of Clipper was to have all major transit agencies in the Bay Area join the Clipper consortium and it has been successfully done with card readers on every bus, train, and train/metro station in the Bay Area.

Phase III of Clipper is to expand the program into the smaller transit agencies. To make the expansion more efficient and cost effective, they have been broken-up into regions of where the transit services is provided. The regions are: East Bay, Napa-Solano, 101 Corridor, and Ferries.

The Ferries group is supposed to be the first, but there hasn't been any news of any new developments. One reason why the ferries will go first is because it requires fewer Clipper equipment (readers, add value machines) versus a single transit [bus] agency that requires extensive amounts of equipment and labor to be installed on every single bus.

Who Gets Clipper First for the Buses?
The MTC is proposing to the Operations Committee to pick the Napa-Solano region to be next with Clipper. The region covers the following agencies:
  • SolTrans
  • Fairfield-Suisun Transit
  • Napa VINE
  • Vacaville City Coach
  • Rio Vista

The MTC is also considering to install Clipper equipment to Union City Transit and Marin Transit.

The MTC has hit a big bump in the amount of Clipper equipment left in their inventory; ERG, the manufacturer of the Clipper card equipment, does not make any more of the equipment that is currently used on the buses of the major transit agencies. Either the MTC gets lucky to procure whatever is left from ERG in Australia or will need to look for new equipment.

The lack of equipment forced the MTC to choose the region that would best fit the remaining equipment in storage, therefore Napa-Solano is the proper choice. Depending on what is leftover, Union City and Marin Transit may also be added for installation; these two agencies are being treated differently because Union City Transit is an extension of AC Transit, and Marin Transit is an extension of Golden Gate Transit.

What About the Other Transit Agencies?
Since there's a lack of equipment in MTC's inventory to cover every single bus for the remaining agencies, they'll need to look elsewhere.

Cubic, the contractor for Clipper, will need to seek new equipment. As the report states, the newest generation of RFID transit fare equipment now includes real-time cellular communications, which means, rapid communications between the equipment and the Clipper network, and without the 5 day waiting period common with online and phone orders with the current technology operating on the major agencies.

The new equipment they are looking at is what's going to be used in Vancouver and Chicago this year when they roll-out their new farecard programs. MTC and Clipper plans to start piloting the new equipment this now until March at no cost to the MTC to see if it will work well with the current Clipper technology in use now.

If the MTC likes the new equipment, they'll likely make a proposal at the March or April Operations Committee meeting and provide the plans for the 101 Corridor and East Bay groups.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

The "Caltrain Screwjob" - End of 8-Rides Means 15% to 25% Fare Hike

Clipper Monster Reader FAIL

If you haven't read the news lately, Caltrain is proposing to do some changes to their fare structure.

Penalty for Paper Tickets
Essentially, it's going to a penalty on the people who buy paper tickets at their train stations. They are proposing passengers to pay an extra 25 cents per zone for one-way tickets, and 50 cents per zone for day passes. Another way of saying it, it's a 10% fare hike for paper ticket users.

However, Caltrain will not impose the additional fee on those who uses Clipper cards to pay for their rides (e-cash).

By operating on a different fare structure for cash vs. Clipper e-cash, it does cause one unique problem:
  • For those who rides more than two times in one day, Clipper e-cash does not give you a day pass; therefore if you ride three times with Clipper, you get charged three one-way rides.
  • At least with a paper day pass, you have to pay an extra 50 cent penalty per zone covered, but you get UNLIMITED rides within the zones covered.

End of 8-Rides
This is going to stir more controversy than the paper ticket hike.

I have argued the 8-ride system for Caltrain on Clipper is pretty much a stupid move, and I have suggested that all passengers who rides Caltrain using Clipper should get an across the board 15% discount on their train fares by paying for one-way rides with Clipper's universal e-cash purse.

Well, it didn't turn out the way I expected it.

Caltrain's proposal is to end 8-ride, therefore Clipper users can pay with e-cash for their single trip rides. But as mentioned from above, Caltrain's 25 cent per zone fee for paper ticket makes it sound like you will still receive a discount, but if you were to spend time and crunch the numbers, you are about to get very screwed over.

Caltrain's way of saying it on their website makes it sound cool the 8-rides will die a painful death, but you'll be paying more. Example:
  • A two zone 8-ride: $32.25
  • New Clipper only 2-zone one-way e-cash per ride: $4.75
  • Multiply new 2-zone Clipper one-way e-cash fare by eight: $38.
  • Divide 32.25 into 38, you get .849. A simple way of saying it, 8-ride passengers being converted to Clipper e-cash one way fares only will be paying for a 15% fare hike.
  • However, if an ex 8-rider uses Clipper, they won't pay the 25 cent per zone paper fee, but if the passenger switches completely to paper tickets only, it will be a 25% fare hike (15% hike for ending 8-ride, and 10% hike for the paper charge).

Akit's Opinion
Regarding the paper ticket fee (10% fare hike):
This begs the question, why hasn't Caltrain and Clipper devised a way to let people essentially 'earn' a day pass when they ride two one-way trips (a.k.a. "pass accumulator")? VTA is planning to do this in the near future where if a passenger rides their buses/trains a certain number of times, the rest of the rides for the remainder of the day is free.

Caltrain also has very few Clipper add value machines, they've only installed them in a few major stations. They refused to modify their paper ticket machines to handle the job, so now people will have to carefully monitor their Clipper e-cash balance, or consider autoload (which I don't recommend).

Regarding the end of 8-rides:
It's a screwjob for the 8-ride users as they lose their 15% off and pay the 'normal' cash fare like other Joes and Janes do today and when the proposal becomes reality. It's an even bigger screwjob for those who decides to skip Clipper completely and pay the paper ticket fare, therefore getting a 25% fare hike.

This ain't cool at all. They kicking their most loyal passengers in the butt, while their casual passengers get a break.

Caltrain's proposal is bad; whomever wrote it will sure get a lot of 8-riders angry. Here's how I would have handled it:
  1. Follow how Golden Gate Transit did it. Instead of raising fares, kill the 8-rides and give all Clipper card passengers an across the board 15% discount on one-way e-cash fares; this will compensate for the end of 8-rides. This attracts more ridership as people who infrequently ride it will notice a 15% discount for them too.
  2. Do not add 10% penalty for paper tickets.
  3. Start doing a transition every six months until you meet the goal you established; either reduce the 15% to 10%, or all fare categories gets a hike of 25 or 50 cents per zone.

By doing the three steps, it makes it sound much better by easing the pain of a hike, but they way they proposed it, it's like getting kicked in the nuts, then kicked in the face seconds later.

The "Caltrain Screwjob"
If you are wondering why I called it the "Caltrain Screwjob," it's similar to professional wrestling's infamous "Montreal Screwjob." You can read about it here.

If you feel upset that you'll be paying a 15% to 25% fare hike, I encourage you to complain to Caltrain. Their e-mail is: changes@caltrain.com or for alternate methods, click here. Make sure to call these changes the "Caltrain Screwjob" so they know Akit encouraged you to contact them and you stand beside him.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Muni Fast Pass Access to Daly City BART? Might be a Reality

BART Agent FAIL - Setting bad example

From a Twitter source I rely on, Jerold Chinn has mentioned the city is working on a deal to possibly expand the Muni "A" Fast Pass access on BART to also include Daly City Station.

It's a big piece of news that's not getting a lot of media attention. Who wouldn't want extra access?

The "A" Muni Fast Pass
The Fast Pass provides passengers the opportunity to ride BART within San Francisco with no additional fare. It's been a big hit for those who lives near a SF BART station and needs to reach their workplace in downtown SF or attends City College of San Francisco because it gets them there quickly without the hassle of riding a bus.

But for SF State students, it's been a hot issue as the "A" pass does not cover Daly City Station; even though SF State is within San Francisco, Daly City is the closest station to the university campus. This forces students to choose to pay for BART in cash, or save money by taking a longer ride by utilizing Muni.

What's up with Daly City BART?
Daly City station is a very unique station as it lies right on the border between the two cities. Since BART declares Daly City Station not part of San Francisco, Muni does not have the privilege to allow their passengers to use their "A" fast pass, and all BART passengers who rides a train crossing the city border pays a surcharge, which costs a rider of a total of $2.95 to go from Daly City to Powell, and vice versa; while a ride starting and ending within SF is just a mere $1.75.

To compensate for the surcharge, Muni offers all exiting BART passengers a coupon (or Clipper e-transfer) to ride Muni's 28, 28L, and 54 lines for free away from the station, and a free ride back within 24 hours of the coupon issued.

SF State has also contributed to help people get to their campus with a free shuttle service where they run mini buses from the BART station to 19th Avenue & Holloway, and vice versa.

Combining the efforts of Muni's 28 and 28L, and the SF State shuttle has provided students a free way to get to the main campus, even though they pay a premium for the BART service to reach Daly City.

What would happen if BART allows the "A" pass to be accepted at Daly City?

Benefits to passengers:
  1. BART passengers who lives near Daly City and only rides BART to SF now has an unlimited ride option and would obviously save tons of money with a flat rate pass.
  2. Do the math: $2.95 one way from DC to Powell, times two (for round-trips), times 20 working days in January 2012 (not includes January 2nd and January 16th for holidays) = $118.00. By using a $70 pass, a passenger saves $48 a month, or $576 a year.
  3. Faster access for SF State students, meaning reduction in loads for Muni Metro's M-Ocean View and 29-Sunset lines (these are alternate ways to connect to SF State; M-Ocean View for downtown BART stations, and 29-Sunset for Balboa Park BART).
  4. Since no SF BART station has a parking lot, now there's a station that has one along the "A" pass boundaries. Perfect for those who attends games at AT&T Park and wants their car waiting for them after their BART ride, like me.
  5. Samtrans passengers who rides the feeder buses to Daly City also benefits with the flat price pass savings when riding BART.

Negative reaction/problems:

  1. Increase in passenger loads on Muni's 28 and 28L lines.
  2. Increase in passenger loads on the SF State Shuttle.
  3. With a lower cost to ride BART and increases attraction to ride to work in downtown SF, it may cause higher demand for parking at the station's parking garage and lots.
  4. BART ticketing machines don't sell Clipper products, only e-cash. This means passengers would have to buy it at a retailer or at a Muni metro station.
  5. The possible end of free paper transfers for the 28, 28L and 54 Muni lines. If Muni is in a major financial problem, they'd likely kill the Daly City free ride transfers because it costs up to $4 per passenger for the free rides. Muni has to somehow compensate for the switch.
  6. Muni could decide to maintain the coupons for the Muni lines, but only offer the 25 cent discount, just like all SF BART stations have.
  7. Samtrans passengers may use BART Plus for unlimited rides on Samtrans and Muni, but doesn't give unlimited BART rides within SF/Daly City.

Akit's Opinions
In my opinion, I think it's a great idea. It's a great way for SF State students to get to campus. This will also encourage more people to use Clipper to ride BART and Muni to get to/from campus.

Since I have a "M" pass, adding an extra $10 for the premium would help me during baseball season since a round-trip ride on BART from Daly City to Powell station already costs $5.90 round-trip. I would park my car at the station (free parking after 3PM weekdays and all-day on weekends), and take the train to/from the game.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Many Drivers Don't Respect the Do Not Pass Laws at Muni Metro Stops

The new Muni Metro Pedestrian Sticker (Edited)

"Hey, what the f--- are you doing!?!?!?!"

That's the first words I blurted out loud when I just exited the metro yesterday morning before 9AM. To those I offended by saying the f-word in public, sorry.

Here's what happened:
I had to visit a local x-ray center to get my teeth scanned, so I took the M-Ocean View metro from my workplace at SF State to 14th and West Portal. When the train got to 14th Avenue, I exited the train, looked both ways to make sure it was okay to cross, and noticed a grey SUV approaching at about 300 feet towards the train in the right lane (the train was in the track lane on the left).

There was enough time to reach the curb with the assumption the SUV would stop as well (even if the SUV was approaching, I could walk fast enough to cross), so I hopped off the train and was about eight feet away from the sidewalk/curb.

Instead of the SUV stopping, it decided to keep driving through the stopped metro train with inches to spare from clipping me. To make matters worse, two other passengers stepped off the train (exited) and saw the SUV pass by IN FRONT OF THEM. That's when I yelled out, "HEY, WHAT THE F--- ARE YOU DOING?!?!"

Instead of the SUV driver admitting to a mistake and quickly coming to a stop, it decides to quickly stop at the intersection and speed off very quickly down West Portal.

As for me yelling out the f-word, I sure had a lot of people staring at me, but hopefully they knew why; that idiot driver could have mowed down up to three people, including myself.


This brings me to the topic of the day: Why are people disrespecting the "Do Not Pass" laws when a light rail and cable car is stopped at a designated stop to discharge and accept passengers?

Every time I ride the metro or the California line cable car I see it every time, some prick driver deciding to speed through while the vehicle is stopped to discharge and accept passengers.

It seems to be worse on the California cable car line because tourists sometimes don't look both ways and you get a bunch of rude drivers who just doesn't obey the law; in one case, I was a driver, and stopped for a cable car discharging passengers. The taxicab behind me decides to blow his horn at me, so I give the driver the finger as more passengers discharge from the cable car.

Even Stanley Roberts of KRON took on this issue with this video report:

The law states that if a metro train or cable car is stopped to pickup/discharge passengers, a driver must stop behind the vehicle to allow the passengers to board and exit without fear of being hit. A driver can attempt to proceed/pass a railed vehicle on the right side only when the vehicle starts moving.

In some circumstances, the boarding island will have a sign saying it's OK to pass, but at a reduced speed. You find these on Ocean Avenue for the K-Ingleside line where you can pass on the right, but only at 10MPH when the light rail vehicle is stopped at the island. In other cases, you can pass at full speed because the island has barriers to separate pedestrians from vehicles (e.g. St. Francis Circle metro stop, see photo by clicking here).

In my case, 14th Avenue and West Portal didn't have a barrier, only a boarding island that only covers half of a one car train, therefore the "do not pass" law applies.

Drivers who violates the law: What's your damn hurry? Is it worth a $250 fine and a point on your driving record? Is it worth facing a judge in traffic court and possibly spending time at traffic school? It is worth raising your insurance rates? And is it worth possibly hitting a pedestrian, paying their medical bills/funeral costs, getting arrested, prosecuted, and spending time in jail? Hell no.

So do me a favor drivers, when a metro train or cable car is stopped and passengers must exit by crossing a traffic lane, just stop behind it. All I need is more x-ray radiation to check for a broken arm, leg, and other stuff.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Shen Yun Performing Arts Show in SF - Totally Misleading

Shen Yun... you've seen it literally on nearly every Muni bus, shopping mall kiosks, full page ads in newspapers, and they justify that they are a great program by selling tickets for orchestra level at $100 a pop and only being in town for just a week.

The reality is, ain't worth your money and your time.

I saw it today and I feel duped.

Why do I feel duped? When people see the ads for Shen Yun Performing Arts, it seems like the show is all about dancing and showing the cultural history of the Chinese people. It's like the greatest show spectacle around if they can dish out tons of dough on tons of bus ads, signage, promotions, and mall kiosks. Heck, they were even promoting the San Francisco show at the Great Mall in Milpitas with an aisle kiosk.

That's until I got my ticket. My folks paid for the tickets so I got one in my hand at the moment I was to enter the War Memorial Opera House, and it said: "SF Falun Buddha Study Association presents..." and I was intrigued if it was being supported by Falun Gong/Falun Dafa or maybe just some organization that has a name similar to Falun Gong.

I shrugged it off and went to my $100 seat in the orchestra section.

Then the show begins, the first few parts was interesting, showing their dances and cultural history; that was until they started force feeding the audience with politics and religion. Surely enough, the hosts of the show was talking about Falun Gong and people getting persecuted; and even simulations of people clubbing Falun Gong practitioners.

Once it hit that, it started getting awkward to be watching the show. What the hell did I spend my $100 on? Why didn't the advertising tell me that it's just a show to help promote politics and religion? Did I get the bait and switch? Was I duped? I sure was. Then the stories of prosecution and beatings kept going in other acts mixed with acts with nothing mentioning or relating to Falun Gong.

To give you something similar: Ever been in a situation that made you real uncomfortable?

I remember going to a church service for a five year anniversary of my late grandmother's passing away because my parents made me go, I felt almost immediately very uncomfortable and literally stormed out of the building almost in tears. It wasn't because I did not respect the church or its religion, I just didn't feel like I belonged there; I felt like a fool trying to say the verses out of the song book, and being pressured be indoctrinated into a religion I had no interest in. My parents was pissed, and I told them why I didn't want to be there; all I wanted to do was to pay my respects by putting flowers in my grandmother's niche in Colma. My parents respected my reasons and my wishes, and I visit my grandmother's niche every few weeks with a fresh bouquet of flowers.

What Shen Yun did was cram stuff down my throat, and making it worse, I paid them $100 to do it. They were misleading. If you brought your kids to see that show, they would be asking you why the heck are people hitting other people with batons? Is it appropriate for the young ones? No.

I wonder why the show tickets was so expensive and they only stay for a very brief period; once people finds out about being force fed the politics and religion, and being mislead through their advertising; they are long gone (with your money). Newspapers would review the first night's show and likely there would be some negative publicity, and be published the next day; but thousands of tickets was purchased before the show even came to town, and are non-refundable, and the rumor mill of the regular people telling others it ain't worth it is pointless because with such a brief time at each city, they are already on their next stop. If they did shows non-stop for a month in one location, they would barely sell any tickets after just a couple of weeks.

I've got nothing against freedom of speech and religion, but if you don't tell people what you are selling, you are just duping them and you get a lot of people pissed off. At least I know that if I am going to a funeral, some type of religion will be embraced; Shen Yun on the other hand didn't tell me they will be talking about Falun Gong and the Chinese government busting their ass on the stage; I was expecting some wonderful dancing and promotion of the Chinese heritage.

And to take it home, I sat through the whole show, even though it really felt awkward; but the six people sitting on my left, didn't come back to their seats after intermission.

Best one hundred dollars spent... fuck.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

How is Muni Handling the Clipper Card? A Look at How the Agency Did in 2011

Clipper Card Readers at the Ballpark

On Tuesday, the SFMTA Board of Directors met, and one topic of particular interest is about how Clipper is doing for the agency. Let's take a look at the highlights of their meeting:

To view the entire presentation, click here for the document (PDF).

The Clipper transition
The report mentions about how the participating agencies are doing in their transition of monthly passes & tickets and how much of their customers are using the Clipper card over other fare media like BART tickets, cash fares, and those exempt from using Clipper (e.g. BART Plus & Muni lifeline passes).

Here's how each agency is doing:
All participating transit agencies, except for VTA has transitioned their monthly passes/tickets to Clipper. VTA is planned to transition their passes at the end of the fiscal year (June 30th).

Transit agency usage of Clipper:
  • AC Transit: 24.9% of boardings use Clipper on weekdays.
  • BART: 44.1%
  • Caltrain: 68.8%
  • Golden Gate Transit (Bus): 34.8%
  • Golden Gate Ferry: 90%
  • Samtrans: 9.3%
  • Muni: 45%
  • VTA: 4.1%

Even though Muni has a lower percentage of usage of Clipper versus Golden Gate Ferry, Caltrain, and BART, Muni has over 50% of the weekday Clipper card boardings in comparison to the total of boardings for the combined membership of Clipper (approximately 330,000 Muni Clipper boardings per weekday vs. 575,000 boardings for the entire Clipper consortium).

Muni's Transition of Fare Media
Muni has done their share of preparing the public for the big transition of moving paper passes and other fare media to Clipper.

Muni has done outreach and marketing to the public, including opening up the SFMTA Customer Service office on select weekends to help youth sign-up for the Clipper card and receive their card immediately; versus waiting for one in the mail.

In September 2011, Muni transitioned most monthly passes to Clipper only. However, paper passes are only available through the Lifeline program and the "P" pass for seniors and disabled whom pays an extra fee on top of the Muni monthly pass for BART access within San Francisco.

From March 2010 to August 2011, Cable Cars accepted Clipper, but it was only for Muni monthly passes. This caused a problem with Clipper card users who wanted to pay with e-cash as the handheld readers could not deduct e-cash payments. This changed in September 2011 when Muni announced all Cable Cars can also accept e-cash payments as the conductors received new handheld devices capable of doing it.

Muni Metro Station Faregate Replacement Project
It's been over a year now with the new Muni metro faregates and it has been a love-hate relationship. There's been a lot of complaints and negative media exposure, but people have gotten used to it.

From Muni's report, currently, the ticket vending machines at all underground stations issue 240,000 paper "Limited Use Tickets" per month. That's a lot of paper tickets issued and a lot of money at roughly $600,000 a year in these special tickets that includes Clipper technology. Ever seen what's inside one of those tickets? Click here.

Reliability of the faregate equipment has been going very well with the machinery maintaining above 99.7% in the last six months. The worst in the past 12 months is when it dropped to 99.2% in April 2011. Still, 99% is pretty good versus the old Muni equipment that jammed, broke down, and non-functioning change machines.

Muni's Clipper On-Board (Bus and Metro) Equipment Reliability
While the metro faregate equipment has been doing well, it's not great news for the vehicle equipment.

For the past three months, equipment reliability has ranged from 96% to 98%, but has dropped to as low as 87% in May 2011. If Muni maintains a 96% availability, this means 1 in 25 buses/trains has malfunctioning equipment.

Muni and Clipper has found ways to improve the reliability of their Clipper equipment:
  • Wireless antenna and software upgrades.
  • Operators contacting Central Control of equipment problems (similar to reporting a broken cash box).
  • Passengers contacting Clipper to report issues.

Fare Inspectors
Fare inspectors carry Clipper card reading equipment to check if passengers tagged their Clipper card.

But while 99% of inspections is just to verify if the transaction went through, there's always that 1% that might have a problem, and that's when their handheld equipment comes in handy. The reader can check the last ten transactions on the card, remaining card funds, what pass(es) are loaded, and what fare category the card uses.

The Cost Muni pays to Operate Clipper
Muni is estimated to spend $10.4 million next fiscal year on Clipper. The calculations are based on:
$7.6 million on Muni's fair share of the operating fees of Clipper for the region.
$1.5 million for the metro's automation of fares.
$600,000 for procuring the limited use tickets sold at metro ticketing machines.
$1.1 million in Muni staffing.
($0.4 million) in savings for ending the paper fare products and reduction in cost for maintaining the faregates as the old gates broke down much more often.

Muni justifies the estimated $10.4 million cost in favor of both the passengers and the agency iteslf. For the passenger it means being able to ride multiple agencies on a single card, and quicker boarding. For Muni, it means less cash handling as more are paying with e-cash and less use of the cash fareboxes, lower fraud from fake paper passes and transfers, and with no more paper pass sales means less resources and staffing needed as most can be handled online, at metro station machines, autoload, or at Clipper contracted retailers like Walgreens.

What's the Future?
  • Muni will be evaluating about possibly transitioning their other fare media to Clipper only, such as their passports, Cable Car tickets, and Lifeline passes.
  • Will be working with MTC and fellow transit agencies on updating their technology to help benefit passengers with better reliability and experience.

Akit's Opinions
In the past year, Muni has done a lot to make Clipper a big star. Many of us give praise to the change, there are others who would agree the paper passes should still be the backbone of the system.

Surely paper passes would still exist along with the Clipper card selling passes too, but lets remember that Clipper is a regional project spearheaded by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and has forced agencies with a gun at their head saying to transition or lose funding. This happened to BART when the agency slacked off on transitioning their tickets to Clipper when the MTC threatened to cut their funding if they didn't do the transition by the last day of 2011.

But is putting a gun to each transit agency's head telling them to go to Clipper a great idea?
  • In some cases, it has helped agencies in certain ways, like reducing fraud from those who prints fake passes and transfers, less people needed to count the farebox cash as people pay with e-cash, more efficient buses as people use Clipper to pay for rides instead of spending longer periods of time feeding cash in the box, and less resources required to disburse passes to thousands of vendors all around the Bay Area.
  • But going Clipper only has its problems too... boarding of Muni buses used to be quick when paper passes was the norm; just flash at the driver and go. Reliability of Clipper card readers on vehicles are not as reliable as the faregates that has over a 99.6% monthly average; if you assume 96% of vehicle readers are functioning, that means 1 of 25 buses/trains have a non-functioning reader; that's unacceptable and Muni loses money because the rules state if the Clipper reader is broken, the passenger scores a free ride. At least with Muni metro, if one gate is broken, just go to the one next to it. Lastly, I understand Muni has done some heavy campaigning to get youth and senior passengers to go Clipper only, but even with all this hard work, the members of the public who slacks-off on obtaining a new card blames the agency for "not doing enough" when plenty of opportunities has been given to get a new card.

Is it really worth $10.4 million per year for Muni to operate Clipper? That depends on who you ask. Is the MTC giving some extra money to agencies to help pay for the brunt of using Clipper? That's an answer I don't exactly know.

What I do know is that by going Clipper only, it's good public relations for the MTC and all the participating agencies by having a single card; that's been a dream of public transit advocates for a very long time. The transition of passes has also changed the way we buy them, offering us more opportunities to buy (online, phone and autoload) but fewer opportunities to buy it through traditional methods (visiting your neighborhood vendor). I've learned to adapt to the changes by visiting a metro station during the weekend to buy my pass when I'm out and about to explore the city.

I don't really think they are giving a good estimate on the $10.4 million because of a few factors: (1) they are saving money on having people count hard cash and coins. Since people can pay their fares with electronic cash on Clipper and not needing to collect money from their (former) pass vendors, this means less staffing is needed to handle money. (2) While the report says the agency is saving money on less maintenance on the faregates, how about the bus and train cash boxes? Less cash fed in the box means less parts moving, and can reduce the need for maintenance as people continue to use e-cash payments.

Muni could save more money by encouraging regular citizens who rides Muni infrequently, by telling them to get a Clipper card, instead of buying a limited use ticket every single time. It costs $600,000 a year to issue those metro ticket machine tickets and a good portion only gets used once and dumped in the trash. Get people on a permanent Clipper card and that estimated $600K will drop. Of course, tourists will still buy the limited use metro tickets, we can't stop that fact.

Lastly, I don't like the idea of having Muni transition their visitor passports and Cable Car tickets to Clipper. Paper form is easier to handle for the visitors. For the lifeline passes, it's not a bad idea to go Clipper only so the agency can stop printing paper passes altogether.

Monday, January 2, 2012

The Winners & Losers of the SFpark Program

SFpark has been around for approximately nine months as a big experiment where us lab rats (citizens & visitors of SF) pay for parking on a market demand system with new parking meters that takes your credit cards, allows longer time to park, and an app that shows people about parking availability and prices (which initially failed).

So after all these months, who are the winners and losers? Let's take a look:

  1. SFMTA/government - they rake money hand over fist because they jack-up parking rates during peak times and also accepts credit cards for those who doesn't like carrying a roll of quarters. Can that extra money help fix Muni?
  2. Off-peak parking rates - If you park in a garage like Japantown's, you pay only $1 per hour for parking before 9AM and after 6PM. The street spots are all taken, so the garage's $1 per hour fee is nice; especially they do it by the half-hour, so if you don't need a full hour, it's just $0.50 for every 30 minutes.
  3. Clear signage at garages - It's easy to know what the parking rates are with their big clear signage at the garage entrance.
  4. Walking an extra block - The SFpark map shows the parking rates for the pilot program's area. In some cases, just one block away, the parking rate is LOWER. For example, on Webster street, from 12PM to 3PM, it's $2.50 an hour, just across the street is just $2.00 an hour.
  5. Neighborhood stores & restaurants - With lower rates at non-peak times, it means more people will visit the neighborhood and patronize. For $1 an hour in the Japantown lot after 6PM, merchants can help bring in more of the dinner crowd.
  6. Parking still free at meters - Sundays, some holidays, and before 9AM and after 6PM is still FREE!
  1. The parking meters - It's nice to know that just a block away parking might be cheaper, but the meters don't tell you the parking rate until you park your car and read the little screen telling you that.
  2. Extreme variable parking rates - If the city authorized special parking rates for "special events" you could be paying outrageous parking fees (between $5 and $40), even if you have no interest or want to participate in the "special event."
  3. SFpark app - It's illegal to use a phone while driving, so how in the heck will you know what the parking rate or availability is?
  4. Peak-parking rates at garages - $2.50 an hour in the Japantown lot vs. going down the block and getting lucky with a street space for $2 an hour is a big deal for this broke blogger.
  5. PayByPhone service - 45 cent fee per transaction? At least using a traditional credit card has a ZERO fee.
  6. Future NFC payments for parking - There's very few NFC (near field communication) cell phones, such as the Google Nexus S that does NFC; the ever popular iPhone 4S and older iPhone models don't have NFC.
  7. Attitudes of consumers - To me, a change in the parking rate doesn't force me to drive less, park further away, or take the bus; if I find a parking space and it says $3 an hour, I'm going to pay it because I've already been driving around the block several times finding some kind of parking space.
Akit's Opinion
In my opinion, I like SFpark because the off-peak rates are very attractive, but the peak rates just wants to make a bigger hole in my wallet. How long more until parking garages and meters will take Clipper cards?

Side note: Sorry for prematurely publishing this blog post. I wasn't finished typing and editing; and accidentally hit the publish button.